UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Life-cycle assessment of transportation biofuels from hydrothermal liquefaction of forest residues in British Columbia Nie, Yuhao; Bi, Xiaotao


Background: Biofuels from hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) of abundantly available forest residues in British Columbia (BC) can potentially make great contributions to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector. A life-cycle assessment was conducted to quantify the GHG emissions of a hypothetic 100 million liters per year HTL biofuel system in the Coast Region of BC. Three scenarios were defined and investigated, namely, supply of bulky forest residues for conversion in a central integrated refinery (Fr-CIR), HTL of forest residues to bio-oil in distributed biorefineries and subsequent upgrading in a central oil refinery (Bo-DBR), and densification of forest residues in distributed pellet plants and conversion in a central integrated refinery (Wp-CIR). Results: The life-cycle GHG emissions of HTL biofuels is 20.5, 17.0, and 19.5 g CO2-eq/MJ for Fr-CIR, Bo-DBR, and Wp-CIR scenarios, respectively, corresponding to 78–82% reduction compared with petroleum fuels. The conversion stage dominates the total GHG emissions, making up more than 50%. The process emitting most GHGs over the life cycle of HTL biofuels is HTL buffer production. Transportation emission, accounting for 25% of Fr-CIR, can be lowered by 83% if forest residues are converted to bio-oil before transportation. When the credit from biochar applied for soil amendment is considered, a further reduction of 6.8 g CO2-eq/MJ can be achieved. Conclusions: Converting forest residues to bio-oil and wood pellets before transportation can significantly lower the transportation emission and contribute to a considerable reduction of the life-cycle GHG emissions. Process performance parameters (e.g., HTL energy requirement and biofuel yield) and the location specific parameter (e.g., electricity mix) have significant influence on the GHG emissions of HTL biofuels. Besides, the recycling of the HTL buffer needs to be investigated to further improve the environmental performance of HTL biofuels.

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